I’ve been reading (does listening on audiobook count?) this book, and it is fascinating.
It is about businesses, but the analysis of leadership behaviours makes it it well worth a listen/read for those of us involved in leadership in the education sector. Here are my main takeaways from this book, and my reflections from my wider reading on the implications of this for school cultures.
- Schein (2017) talks about the need to consider the types and degrees of relationship formality you want and the importance of developing, articulating and transmitting a strategic vision. You might decide that transactional formality or more interpersonal and friendly are most appropriate in your context. This may depend upon the size and maturity of the organisation. Schein describes ‘talk to the campfire’ meetings to break the ice and move to more productive and trusting working relationships.
- He goes on to describe the dynamics of organisational cultures. Often, sub-cultures are ‘nested’ within macro cultures. Sometimes, macro cultures compete with each other. This is relevant to education, where different paradigms of professionalism exist. Traditional (professionalism = experience) and democratic (professionalism = openness and research-informed expertise) paradigms exist alongside and in conflict with managerialist professionalism, which is promotes accountability and the measurement of metrics. For more discussion on paradigms of professionalism see Evans, 2008; Evans, 2011; Freidson, 2004 and Sachs, 2001.
- These paradigms are arguably incompatible: managerialist professionalism seeks efficiency whilst traditional and democratic professionalism depend on time to develop experience and nurture expertise. Sub and competing cultures can disrupt the realisation of the intended or planned vision for organisational culture. This is why the kinds of performativity that has been expressed in many schools has become so toxic (Ball, 2003; 2016); it is a battle between tight and loose ways of understanding teacher professionalism. If one way is right, it can feel that the other way is implied to be wrong.
- When professional identities are challenged, it feels personal. Resisting managerialism can become a moral purpose. Those ‘difficult’ teachers? They are defending the profession, as they understand it. Their cynicism comes from the burnout associated with the psychological unsustainability of the cognitive dissonance that arises from holding competing professional paradigms (Ball, 2008).
- Competing paradigms of professionalism influence school cultures as different (usually unspoken) assumptions about what it means to be a professional influence school policy and teacher values and practice. Initiatives which run contrary to one’s view of professionalism are often be resisted. People worry about the ubiquity of managerialism because of the possibility that new teachers entering the profession will not be in a position to know that there are alternatives to managerialism, and the debate will simply fade away (Buchanan, 2015; Mockler, 2011). Evans (2011) is more optimistic that ‘real’ teacher professionalism (the democratic, research-engaged kind) organically persists.
- It is not just the teachers who are caught up in unspoken assumptions about professionalism. Leaders may overtly express their cultural aims and expectations through establishing routines and behaviours that ought to produce more effective cultures. But, Schein (2017) argues, these only tend to succeed if their own unconscious assumptions about cultural behaviours align with these routines. For example, if a leader talks about openness and then shuts down dissenting voices, a culture confusion and contradictory behaviours results.
- If competing unstated and stated cultural assumptions and routines are not shared (even conflicts which are internal to the leader, i.e., stating that they welcome fresh ideas then acting autocratically), sub cultures will emerge. These disrupt the explicit aims of leaders (Schein, 2017).
- Leaders really need to examine what their underlying assumptions of cultural development are. Routines alone are only a partial solution and are vulnerable to competing underlying assumptions. I believe that understanding these processes and making the implicit explicit is essential to gaining the insight needed to make meaningful change.
- Deliberate and explicit laying of the groundwork for developing effective cultural conditions in schools is essential. Earley (2020) suggests that routines in leadership can be learned, but the best leaders are those who work on themselves, get coaches and engage in deep reflection. This may enable them to recognise and, thus, avoid transmitting their internal and perhaps contradictory cultural expectations.
- Korthagen (2017) makes a similar point about the need to support teachers to unpick their professional and cultural assumptions, too. Without understanding our underlying assumptions, it is very difficult to effect any change at all in individual behaviour or cultural norms.
- To draw Korthagen, Earley and Schein together, leaders and teachers should unpick their unconscious assumptions about professional and cultural values and understand them. They will transmit them whether they intend to or not. Better to understand them and mitigate the potential for unhelpful cultural clashes in order to set the stage for positive and productive change.
Ball, S. J. (2003). The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1080/0268093022000043065
Ball, S. J. (2008). Performativity, Privatisation, Professionals, and the State. In B. Cunningham (Ed.), Exploring Professionalism. Institute of Education, University of London.
Ball, S. J. (2016). Subjectivity as a Site of Struggle: Refusing Neoliberalism? British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(8), 1129–1146. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2015.1044072
Buchanan, R. (2015). Teacher Identity and Agency in an Era of Accountability. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 700–719. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2015.1044329
Earley, P. (2020). Surviving, Thriving and Reviving in Leadership: The Personal and Professional Development Needs of Educational Leaders. Management in Education, 34(3), 117–121. https://doi.org/10.1177/0892020620919763
Evans, L. (2008). Professionalism, Professionality and the Development of Education Professionals. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56(1), 20–38. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8527.2007.00392.x
Evans, L. (2011). The ‘shape’ of Teacher Professionalism in England: Professional Standards, Performance Management, Professional Development and the Changes Proposed in the 2010 White Paper. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), 851–870. https://doi.org/10.1080/01411926.2011.607231
Freidson, E. (2004). Professionalism: The third logic (reprint). Polity Press.
Korthagen, F. (2017). Inconvenient Truths About Teacher Learning: Towards Professional Development 3.0. Teachers and Teaching, 23(4), 387–405. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2016.1211523
Mockler, N. (2011). Beyond ‘What Works’: Understanding Teacher Identity as a Practical and Political Tool. Teachers and Teaching, 17(5), 517–528. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2011.602059
Sachs, J. (2001). Teacher Professional Identity: Competing Discourses, Competing Outcomes. Journal of Education Policy, 16(2), 149–161. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680930116819
Schein, E. H. (2017). Organizational Culture and Leadership (5th Edition). Wiley.